Coshed In Translation

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

(Life In A Time Of Civil War)

Thomas Hobbes ‘The Leviathan’


Given Hobbe’s description of anarchy before strong central government, it’s easy to understand why Syrians, Iraqui’s and Somalians have elected not only to flee to Britain but also to take up permanent residence here. We all get, why residing in a nation in which Curry is the national dish, and Strictly Come Dancing’’ the national pastime is preferable to hiding out in a bomb shelter somewhere in down town Baghdad.

What we fail to get is why it’s necessary for an impoverished citizen, seeking leave to remain in Britain to have to cough up fifty pounds for a citizenship test. I grew up in a neighbourhood replete with at least half a dozen nationalities, Ghanaians lived cheek by suspicious jowl with Nigerians, Catholic Irish learned to accommodate living alongside Muslims, and Kenyan Hindu’s soon learned to resign themselves to the vociferous ways and meat eating tendencies of Africans in general. Turks tolerated their Greek neighbours who in turn learned to tolerate them. All were culturally very different; all had learnt to rub along in order to get along. From reciting vast tracts of Shakespearian prose to drinking tea in the morning each culture had brought some aspect of ‘Britishness’ with them to England, it wasn’t considered necessary to inculcate them into the ‘British way of life’.


“Do you speak English?” a familiar phrase spoken sardonically by the Somalian students I was privileged to work with several years ago. Several teaching staff (some of them from overseas), had taken one look at the conservatively dressed Somalian kids the state obliged them to educate, and had made the mistake of querying their ability to speak fluent English. I soon learned that they not only weren’t expected to speak fluent English they weren’t entitled to hold views that conflicted with British Liberal thinking either. Try teaching speaking & listening or speech writing to a student who is silently discouraged from voicing his dissent with England’s warmongering policies abroad or extolling the benefits of wearing the Niqab. It seemed to me that all of a sudden it wasn’t enough to be speaking English and receiving an English education, these kids were being manipulated into thinking British and versing British ideas as if they were their own.

Single-White-FemaleYou know what you get when you have people parroting ideas they don’t really believe in just to fit in? A facsimile of the real thing, kind of like the movie ‘Single White Female’, dresses like Allie, talks like Allie, it even looks like Allie but it’s really Allie’s psychotic flat mate. 

And so we come to the real issue at hand, the need of immigrant communities to England to feel accepted & hence as protected as everyone else from rampant exploitation. The need to have some redress when they find themselves forced to reside in uninhabitable housing. The right to good schooling, devoid of the kinds of racism casually displayed in some instances, towards pupils who dress in a way that indicates their religious beliefs. The right to good jobs; once they’ve trained for them. The right to practice their religious beliefs freely, and request that their children be fed in keeping with their religious beliefs. The right to hold to their customs and way of life, so long as those customs don’t cause inhumane suffering, to those amongst them who don’t believe in them. The right, in short, to have their way of life respected where it does not impinge on democracy or democratic values.


So what’s the citizenship test really about? Immigrant communities cutting themselves off from the main stream and needing to be assimilated back within it? There are members of other communities taking up Hinduism and embracing Islam precisely because of the openness and warmth of these immigrant communities. Or is this simply another facet of the Neo-Con agenda wherein the ‘British Values’ being extolled and which students are expected to study (in order to pass the test), are simply those values which typify a middle class, ‘little Englander’ near xenophobic way of thinking. Because if this is, why are we as taxpayers (and include those seeking citizenship in that ‘we’) partially funding the courses giving rise to these tests? Isn’t this simply us, funding the exploitation of immigrants by the private sector?


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